I. The Current State
Our last century’s best attempt at (re)discovery of a feminine constellation of meaning and feminine creativity was hijacked and turned against itself by our nation’s most wealthy and powerful – chief stewards of the same, increasing hollowness of both the masculine and feminine which a true resurgence of feminine creativity could’ve liberated us all from in the birth of a new age. But how did both masculinity and femininity come to seem such impoverished roles that they inspired an attempt (albeit not the most profound one) at sexual and gender liberation?
Further along in this essay I’ll attempt to explain some reasons why both femininity and masculinity, as constellations of meaning, came to progessively recede into oblivion in the pre-modern era. I’ll try to explain how because of resource limits and the fundamental course of civilizations hitherto, masculinity gained increasing significance in pre-modern societies, but also how in its lack of homage to, and villification of the feminine (which is, after all, masculinity’s essential opposite), masculinity came to drive itself into an increasing oblivion of meaning.
Focusing first though on our present historical moment, it is important to see how the process of increasing atrophy of the masculine and feminine as constellations of meaning has been consummated by the modern technological mind-frame…For the modern technological mind-frame, both masculinity and femininity, like all other entities, only exist as material to be reorganized into evermore organizable material, in ever-increasing service to the modern technological project. (Contrast the Christian symbolic world where the feminine creative principle has been suppressed, constricted, and even demonized as the central temptation of temporal life – where masculine creativity has gone a great distance in obliterating itself in the villification and suppression of its essential opposite – but where the masculine and feminine principles are still central within the mythological constellation of meaning.)
The essential movement of modern technology is the continual destruction and reorganization of all things and relations into things and relations more serviceable within the modern technological project. For this reason mainly, in terms of metaphysical interpretations (interpretations of the nature of beings in general), the modern technological interpretation is preeminently effective at undermining any sense of value in existing things and relations. Thus, it’s not surprising the so-called feminist movement of the last century was hijacked by the modern technological project. Femininity itself, and masculinity too, are schemata of meaning both dictated by and guiding creativity, but whereas in past epochs they were centrally important to human beings, they are being increasingly decentered by modern technology and its/our current world project. But how? What do I mean, the feminist movement was hijacked? For this answer we need to look at the various outcomes of the women’s “liberation” movement.
Prior to this movement, women were not widespread, permanent workers in this country. During it, especially in its inception, women stressed a broad range of radical changes (social, spiritual, professional, artistic) necessary for their liberation from an oppressive and repressive, male-dominated system. The movement was greatly forwarded in gaining support from well-established institutions such as universities and dynastic foundations like that of the Rockefellers. In doing so though, the feminist project of liberation became focused around gaining access for women to fair pay in more areas of the job market. Given that this goal was perfectly in line with (and indeed the clearing of a great hurdle for) the modern technological project in this country and thus the world, it’s not surprising that it was dramatically successful. (Note: Apart from the backing of powerful institutions, the movement of women into the workforce was greatly pushed along by the need for maximum economic mobilization during WWII, and several consumer technological inventions and developments in the food industry which came about in the forties and fifties and reduced the amount of time necessarily spent in domestic work.)
In the initial years women began moving en mass into the workforce following WWII, the median incomes of families rose dramatically. From the early 1950’s to the 1960’s, the square footage of an average American house almost doubled. Unfortunately, as family incomes increased, so did private levels of debt, and as women entering the workforce did not even come close to doubling the supply of such commodities as food, water, electricity, and other real measures of wealth, the price of such commodities soon increased in proportion to a great deal of extra money being printed and fed into the economy, in part to “pay for” the Vietnam War. This combination of factors partly accounts for the fact that inflation adjusted mean income in the U.S. peaked in 1976 and declined for the next 25 years, and this situation eventually necessitated that the vast majority of men and women work (especially if they wanted to raise a family) and combine their incomes to achieve an acceptable standard of living.
The reality today is that the vast majority of women work if they are able to do so. Many women have much more financial independence from men than was generally possible prior to the women’s liberation movement, but “liberation” strikes me as a potentially misleading word in this case. It’s true that women are free to choose from more varied jobs and are subject to less harassment and discrimination in the workplace, but they’re increasingly pressured by economic forces (and strains that increasing devotion to the system places on relationships) to have a job or career, and to work increasingly hard, for longer hours at these jobs. Rather than becoming liberated, they’re instead decreasing their devotion to and dependence upon individual men, and becoming increasingly dependent upon and faithful to their respective institutions and/or career paths within the techno-industrial project.
Women’s labor now chiefly contributes capital and taxes to the project of the techno-industrial system, creating more wealth and potential for investment for the central stewards of that project. Children have also become more complete economic actors, as raising them is increasingly delegated to capitalist, taxable industry, because currently both parents usually want to work and/or feel compelled to do so. Perhaps most importantly of all, as children’s time “spent” is shifted increasingly from home in the company of family, to various state-run and capitalist institutions, they themselves will likely become more faithful and educated actors within the system, and less prone to develop strong familial values. This is especially important to think about in the wake of the President’s comments in his last State of the Union Address, that all children should be provided the opportunity to attend a “quality pre-school.” Given that the vast majority of American parents simply no longer have adequate time for their young children, this further extension of the system’s reach into the lives of toddlers seems like the next logical step, even to me. But before we praise it unequivocally as magnanimous progress, we should think about it within the long term, historical trajectory of the erosion of the American family, and the increasing pervasiveness of the state’s role in our lives.
Perhaps even more important to consider, given the incipient themes of this essay, is how the necessary mobilization of both sexes in the work force has changed our nation’s relationship to food. It’s no mere coincidence that the precipitous rise of women entering the workforce has coincided with the equally precipitous rise of the fast food industry in this country. And the fact that Americans now spend more money on fast food than on higher education, personal computers, computer software, or new cars –the fact they spend more on fast food than on movies, books, magazines, newspapers, videos, and recorded music combined, doesn’t even tell half the story. The fact that centralized purchasing decisions of the large restaurant chains and their demand for standardized products has given a handful of corporations an unprecedented degree of power over the nation’s food supply, means an even more profound change to our relationship to food than our purchasing of fast food itself. The vast majority of the nation’s food supply (not just that which becomes “fast food”) has been greatly centralized and is produced in increasingly intensive agricultural and feeding operations to meet food corporations’ demand for cheap, standardized products…
This is not to say nothing has been gained from the women’s liberation movement, nor that this movement somehow exclusively caused these potentially destructive trends. As I’ve tried to stress, the women’s liberation movement has been channeled (as has modern history in general) to a great extent by humanity’s ever increasing entrenchment in the modern technological mind-frame. The movement itself has resulted in a great deal of education and self-assertion of women in all fields along with a vast improvement of many fields through women’s professional acceptance into them. And this is on top of the aforementioned, conditional liberation for women, which in many cases bests their financial dependence upon men, especially given the deplorably high levels of abuse still being committed by men against women and girls. But isn’t the prevalence of such widespread abuse itself indicative of the fact that a more profound awakening of the feminine spirit is still lacking? If women and girls, and the feminine spirit they embody, resumed a place of profound meaning and sacredness in their own and men’s hearts, we’d expect such abuse to be much less prevalent. But as I pointed to before, the technological mind-frame, in constantly reorganizing all things, ourselves included, as objects, has an uncanny power of stripping away any sense of the sacred. And in terms of a movement which attempts to renew both the feminine and masculine creative principles through rediscovery and reengagement in the feminine, and rediscovery ‘in relief’ of the masculine, it’s hard to see how the changes the women’s liberation movement has brought about – now quite irreversible within our current economic system due to its need for perpetual growth to prevent economic collapse – have a right to the term “feminism.”
Indeed, are we generally any closer to even having an idea of what the feminine or masculine creative principles are? Are such “principles” even knowable – even real – and if so, in what way, and do we even want to know about them at this point? The effacement of gender in the workplace seems necessary for the repository of our population’s skills to be put into economic service as contentedly and completely as possible, but does this effacement have a cost outside of work and to much of our work? Of course, in our private relationships we can try as we might to stumble through our own interpretations of woman and man on a case by case basis, without reliable prefigured meanings of our relations. But does the widespread and growing inability for woman and man to grow together through life testify to our “success” in this stumbling? Or is it chiefly the devotion required by our professional roles that’s undermining our relationships? And what does this relational attrition mean for children, who, as a consequence of these developments are increasingly raised in a professional environment that is both less gendered and more ephemeral in terms of the relationships developed there? – At least one thing is sure though: Regardless of the state of our relationships, the system will always be there – ready with our roles it continually conditions us for… Or will it?
Given all this uncertainty, should we content ourselves with the notion that the work of feminism will be complete when we reach total, equal-opportunity workforce integration? And should we resolve ourselves to the reality that a profound understanding of the feminine and masculine principles is superfluous at best, and probably a will ’o the wisp? –
I don’t think so. What’s more, I think we’re at a critical juncture. The present historical moment seems poised for a confluence of world-historic crises, but also, evermore promisingly, we find signposts to the possibility of deliverance from these crises in a number of emergent fields of thought and activity. Today, the heroic efforts of feminists in this country, though they were largely hijacked in my view, have nonetheless made it much more possible for women and men to work in dialogue for the advancement of these fields, and so re-new humanity’s lease on our beautiful earth. And I believe this potential for partnership is critical, because I believe the reemergence of the feminine and masculine is and will be the heart of our creative rebirth.
II. Signposts to the Feminine
It seems to me that the best place to begin awakening to a fulfilling, radically creative sense of the feminine and masculine is in the beginning. Art of the Upper Paleolithic – the beginning of extant art – could mark in a sense the birth of humanity’s special genius. Human beings have the peculiar ability and attendant need to make lasting images of their experiences – images which can be returned to in reverence, immeasurably deepening and complicating our lives. Many animals use tools, some may well experience a sense of grief and awe, and some may even have complex, symbolic languages, but the cave paintings of Chauvet, and the sculpted figures of earth mothers peering into the all-encompassing mystery of their own, universal vulvas – such expressions of the mystery of existence, life and death, are uniquely ours. And some images of this period, when so much of the chaff of life (and even the grain which brought chaff about) was not yet, strike me as ineffably profound – indeed, inaccessibly profound for our much more sheltered eyes: The climax of a perilous journey deep into the hardly accessible corridors of a wondrous cave, ending in an expansive chamber, and at the rear of the chamber, what’s painted on a massive, overhanging column? On one side, the dark vulva of a lioness juxtaposed with the dark face and crescent horns of a bull, the foreleg of the latter merging with hind-leg of the former, as if the two are one. And on the obverse side, faces of lions – the faces of human being’s limit in the all-devouring, all-creating cycle of life and death in masculine and feminine, terrestrial and subterranean forms – a cycle nonetheless per-severed by the mythical revolution of spirit, like the sun and moon.
No less fascinating than these earliest images, and perhaps even more germane to our own potential masculine and feminine rebirths, are texts and artifacts archeologists have salvaged from some of the world’s earliest city-states. As early as the eighth and seventh millennia BC, the division between what was to become the two main branches of civilization was already arising. In fertile riparian lands and alpine valleys, the predominant plant and animal domestication (domestication which brought about civilization in general) was agriculture, whereas in prairies and grasslands the accent was on herding animals. And where the economic accent was on agriculture, the religious accent was on the feminine –the all-giving mystery of the earth mother – whereas for nomadic herders the accent was on the masculine, usurping, supremely powerful sky god.
Over the next several millennia, the Fertile Crescent was shaped and reshaped by clashes between, and amalgamations of, peoples of these two divergent cultures. The main nomadic herding groups, the Aryans and Semites, became increasingly formidable warriors who successively attacked the increasingly fortified, agriculturist cities of the fertile river valleys. There were long periods of rule by nomadic overlords, and periods of agriculturalist revival attended by the return of the goddess back to the city’s spiritual center.
I’m no scholar of the arts of this period, yet one of my favorite works of art in general is the Epic of Gilgamesh, which was written down in Mesopotamia during a period of Semitic rule, around 1750BC. At the story’s outset, Gilgamesh rebukes the goddess Ishtar’s embrace (Ishtar is the Babylonian counterpart of the earlier, agriculturist Sumerian’s Inanna, goddess of love, fertility and war, whose temple was built in Uruk, the city which the Babylonian King Gilgamesh rules in his epic). He flees from this goddess who reeks to him of decay and death in favor of a quest for personal immortality. At his adventure’s end though, he returns to her without having attained his goal. Still, he’s not in despair about how he almost attained but ultimately lost the serpents’ power of immortality. Rather, he returns contentedly, in light of a new kind of immortality understood in the innumerable forms his legacy will take in the future via his return to the city with its great walls, its gardens and its goddess queen. For me the arch of this journey is the central lesson of civilization, and for our own civilization principally – if only we can see its rare emergence in works like The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Odyssey for what it means to us. But herein is the difficulty.
III. Interpreting the Signs
As Dave Montgomery explains in his youtubed lecture on Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations (I’ve provided a link to this on my blog under “Dynamos”), the arch of civilizations is principally determined by soil fertility and degradation. But indirectly, this arch of soil fertility has also been perhaps the greatest single influence on the respective worships of masculine and feminine creative principles throughout world history. For while the worship of goddesses and gods has largely mirrored civilizations’ means of subsistence within nature (and consequent interpersonal interactions), these means of subsistence have been chiefly determined by soil fertility or lack thereof. The epics of Gilgamesh and Odysseus come to us from societies where the feminine was obviously still revered, but where the masculine spheres of conquest, animal husbandry and martial defense was increasingly eclipsing the feminine. And this is not only because these epics come from two nomadic, herding ethnic groups (the Semites and Aryans). These ethnic groups were accented towards herding since their beginnings, but this nomadic, warring lifestyle gained ground generally, increasingly in the ancient world because of the general arch of soil fertility and degradation.
In a land where the earth is incredibly fertile, the goddess and her mystery not only can be, but historically has been centrally revered, but as the soil becomes increasingly barren, both settled agriculturalists and nomadic herders must look to martial defense and imperial expansion for renewed fertility and subsistence. And even in ancient Sumer, the agricultural society which invented writing and thus marks, to a great extent, the far horizon of recorded history, Inanna is both the goddess of fertility and warfare. Even then fertility and war were intimately related in the collective psyche of an agriculturist people, and this fact is telling when one considers the successive rise and fall of civilizations turned empires in the ancient world, and the increasing infertility and desertification of settled lands during the same period, beginning in the Fertile Crescent, and later spreading to the Mediterranean and greater Middle East. But what does all this mean for our global civilization in our modern, technological epoch?
Modern technology sets upon nature (i.e. that which is not yet modified by it) in such a way that it puts nature in the standing reserve of modifiable objects for its continual project. In identifying objects as objects, it draws upon the research of modern physical science, which is continually enhancing the scope of different fields of objects in such a way that they are laid bare for modification. In enhancing the scope of scientific fields, modern science principally enhances human beings’ senses and measuring capabilities, both with the invention of technological apparatus capable of enhanced sensing, and with the invention of mathematics capable of measuring continually opening fields of research.
Effectively, modern technology has enabled man to vastly extend the project of imperial expansion begun in the ancient world, not only by enhancing the power of empires under the aegis of modern technology to dominate lands and peoples outside modern technology’s current domain, but fundamentally by setting upon that which is continually being opened up by research on the frontiers of man’s sensing and measuring of nature, and modifying the material therefrom into evermore serviceable and modifiable forms.
However, just like ancient technology which combined new ways of living with instruments like the plow, the city wall, the war chariot, etc., modern technology is also subject to exhausting a given field of energy mobilized by it, and as was the case for ancient civilizations, our modern, global civilization faces no more fundamental limit to growth and stability than the fertility of soil. A plethora of modern technological innovations such as steam (i.e. coal) driven mills, and locomotives and tractors also driven by hydrocarbons, have greatly accelerated man’s production of food from soil, thereby greatly increasing global population. However, this process has also greatly accelerated soil degradation globally – so much so that by the early twentieth century mankind was facing a potentially catastrophic crisis in approaching a basic limit of soil fertility.
During WWI, the efforts of a group of German chemists (trying to derive a reactive form of nitrogen for use in explosives) led to what’s now known as the Haber process. This process, which burns fossil fuels to generate enough heat to produce nitrogen containing ammonia from atmospheric nitrogen, did further the German war effort, but a later utilization of this chemical engineering process has had a much greater impact on our world. Following the war, chemists began using the ammonia derived from the Haber process to manufacture chemical fertilizers, renewing soil fertility and thereby forestalling the curtailment of the growing global population. This innovation was by far the 20th century’s biggest in the development of intensive agriculture. By 1975, world agricultural production was 16 times what it had been in 1820, and this is due in large part to the Haber process. Indeed, it’s estimated that the survival of one third of the earth’s current human population is dependent upon fertilizers derived from this process, and that 50 percent of the world’s supply of protein is produced with nitrogen fixed in this process.
However, this timely technological rescue is not without an ominous undertone. The nitrogen made available to plants is one of three macronutrients needed in large quantities by plants for them to grow and appear healthy. But simply because a plant appears healthy doesn’t mean it is healthfully fulfilling its role in the ecological food web. We human beings, for example, need to obtain 29 different vitamins and minerals from eating plants (or eating animals (and fungi, bacteria, etc.) who in turn get them from eating plants) or else we’ll become progressively sick (think chronic disease, auto-immune disease, cancer, etc.), and eventually die. Our physiological processes simply can’t function properly without these nutrients. And since our industrially produced fertilizers do not even attempt to supply plants with these micronutrients or their botanical precursors (this would involve a Herculean and probably impossible technological undertaking), it’s not surprising that they are becoming less prevalent in, and even disappearing completely from, the foods we produce. In his landmark book, “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration,” Weston Price found through painstaking measurement that the average “traditional diet” (comprised of food obtained and/or produced independent of the intensive agricultural system of the west) contained five times the essential minerals, and ten times the fat soluble vitamins as the average “civilized diet” produced within the intensive agricultural system, and this was in the 1930’s! Consider this, and consider that every stage of the intensive agricultural process is heavily dependent on fossil fuels which have long been increasingly difficult and costly to obtain, and you will begin to see how unsustainable our current trajectory of food production is.
But how does our unsustainable intensive agricultural system relate to our collective rebirth into a radically revitalized sense of masculinity and femininity? It may seem as though we’ve strayed hopelessly from this original topic, but I’m convinced that for some of us lucky ones – the ones who will become a new kind of prototypical human being – precisely this unsustainability will necessarily bring about the collective rebirth of our sexual identities, and along with that, and out of that, a new age.–Until now, our invaluable reservoir of modern study into the creative forces of masculinity and femininity, whether it’s been gleaned in the practice of holotropic and other depth psychology, or come up from the unconscious through visionary poets and artists, or been dug up in the perspectives of ancients by archeologists and historians of all kinds, or theorized by feminist thinkers – all this invaluable knowledge has remained peripheral to the vast majority of us, even for many of us who have a strong inclination towards it. But why? … Because it has had so little bearing, and ever decreasing bearing, on how we’re being employed by the techno-industrial system to relate to each other and to nature.
Early civilizations in Mesopotamia, for example, didn’t need to dig up from past cultures ideas of what the feminine and masculine meant. Such ideas grew organically out of the ways men and women interacted with each other and the life that surrounded them. But since the birth of civilization, the path to domination has fostered a course of resource unsustainability. This in turn fostered the central power and importance of the masculine creative principle, eventually led to a prevailing belief in the evil and wretchedness of the feminine, and finally resulted in the progressive atrophy of both the feminine and masculine as creative forces and constellations of meaning.
With our creative rebirth though, it will have to be different. The imperative of sustainability and the fact that much of our current population must produce a large amount of food to survive, necessitates a way of life that is ecologically balanced. The most successful horticultural/permacultural gardens employ rotational land usage and a balanced integration of animal husbandry. And a biodynamic, more-than-sustainable lifestyle is greatly enhanced (and not only nutritionally, I think) by foraging, hunting, and fishing. But the keystone and measure of success to this new way of life will have to be an increasingly fertile soil – a topsoil that grows rather than erodes away.
In terms of soil fertility, the progress of a sustainable or more than sustainable people, community, etc., must move in the opposite direction of civilization hitherto. And in following this imperative the feminine will be organically, progressively brought back to our creative center, and understood again for its most profound significance. I can only vaguely surmise what this world might look like, but strongly believe, with history as my witness, that women and perhaps even goddesses will once again hold much greater sway there – and not simply through laws and courts of law, but sway over our individual hearts, where justice is always ultimately decided. And just because the central arch of civilization’s effects on the land must be reversed, and we must put more time into our food again, doesn’t mean we need to become progressively impoverished culturally or spiritually. On the contrary, this could be the greatest instance of cultural awakening the world has yet known. The scholar Karl Jaspers, speaking of the axial age, an age which saw the rise of classical Greece, the advent of Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Confucianism, Taoism, the Greek epic, drama, lyrical poetry, western philosophy, and great advancements in mathematics – said this period was “an interregnum between two ages of great empire, a pause for liberty, a deep breath bringing the most lucid consciousness.” So what might open to the spirit of humanity if we can both preserve some of the key findings of civilized life thus far, and can free ourselves from the idea of empire itself, seeing it as humanity’s adolescent flight, like that of Icarus, up against natural limits which civilized man forgot and only relearned through a painful return to earth.
There is much that hints at wonderful possibilities for new, unparalleled developments of the feminine and masculine. There are the lessons of traditional peoples, refined over so much time. There are the visionary insights of poets like William Blake and Friedrich Holderlin, who foresaw so much of our increasing, modern poverty and impassioned themselves with its cure. There is the all-governing yin principle of the Toa, and the work of depth psychologists and comparative mythologists. And particularly intriguing for me is a turn western philosophy took with the German thinker Martin Heidegger.— To understand human being’s most primordial essence, he feels (and I now feel too) we must step back from beings, and discover in ourselves the source and opening ground of beings’ coming to presence. This wellspring of All that is, preceding differentiation and leading out to it – preceding the systems of beings we are so at home in occupying ourselves with – is what my teacher and friend (and the smartest man I’ve ever met), Marco Giordano, called the feminine… An interesting thought, especially since Heidegger believed the exploration of this Being preceding all beings would necessarily bring about world-historic change. But these are things I mean to write about elsewhere, and if they make it here, to this blog, hopefully it will only be as sojourners in this electronic world. Hopefully they will be born of, find, and give rise to – more fertile ground.
When will come the next year one?
Dawn again, historical day!
In no small blasphemy I say
That Numbers, Tables – All is One.
It’s true it seems that we are drawn
Deep into night, but so it must
Take dark to cry out, “Jacob’s Just –
Oh, here is the dawn!”
Dawn like Christ’s new sight of Twins:
She’s azure-eyed, he’s at the breast,
And so revolves the worldly feast
And who can think of sins?
I self-endure although I end
Without a point where I begin –
Within without, without within;
So night of Christ – Dawn must append
His-story’s lost wander, and gather
The Daughter to the Father
With Mother to the Son,
For chronicles, Eternal Flame – All is One.